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Spelt (in British English) is also the simple past tense and past participle of the verb to spell.
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Class: Liliopsida
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Order: Poales
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Family: Poaceae
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Genus: Triticum
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Species: T. spelta
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Binomial name
Triticum spelta
Trinomial name
Type Species

Spelt (Triticum spelta) was an important wheat species in parts of Europe from the Bronze Age to medieval times. It now survives as a relict crop in Central Europe, but has found a new market as a health food. Spelt is sometimes considered a subspecies of the closely related species common wheat (T. aestivum), in which case its botanical name is considered to be Triticum aestivum subsp. spelta.



Spelt has a complex history. It is a hexaploid wheat species known from genetic evidence to have originated as a hybrid of a domesticated tetraploid wheat such as emmer wheat and the wild goat-grass Aegilops tauschii. This hybridization must have taken place in the Near East because this is where Ae. tauschii grows, and it must have taken place prior to the appearance of bread wheat (Triticum aestivum, a hexaploid free-threshing derivative of spelt) in the archaeological record c. 8000 years ago.

Genetic evidence shows that spelt wheat can also arise as the result of hybridization of bread wheat and emmer wheat, although only at some date following the initial 'Aegilops'-tetraploid wheat hybridisation. The much later appearance of spelt in Europe might thus be the result of a later, second, hybridization event between emmer and bread wheat. Recent DNA evidence supports an independent origin for European spelt, through this hybridization[1]. However whether spelt has two separate origins in Asia and Europe, or single origin in the Near East, is currently disputed.[2][3]

Early history

The earliest archeological evidence of spelt is from the fifth millennium BC in Transcaucasia, north of the Black Sea. However, the most abundant and best-documented archaeological evidence of spelt is in Europe.[4] Remains of spelt have been found in some later Neolithic sites (2500 - 1700 BC) in Central Europe.[5][6] During the Bronze Age, spelt spread widely in central Europe. In the Iron Age (750-15 BC), spelt became a principal wheat species in southern Germany and Switzerland, and by 500 BC also in southern Britain.[7]

References to the cultivation of spelt wheat in Biblical times (see matzo), in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, and in ancient Greece, are incorrect, and result from confusion with emmer wheat.[8]

Later history

In the Middle Ages, spelt was cultivated in parts of Switzerland, Tyrol and Germany. Spelt was introduced to the United States in the 1890s. In the 20th century, spelt was replaced in almost all those areas in which it was still grown by bread wheat. As spelt requires less fertilizers, the organic farming movement made it more popular again towards the end of the century.


Spelt contains about 57.9 percent carbohydrates (excluding 9.2 percent fibre), 17.0 percent protein and 3.0 percent fat, as well as dietary minerals and vitamins.[9] As it contains a moderate amount of gluten, it is suitable for baking. In Germany, the unripe spelt grains are dried and eaten as Grünkern, which literally means "green seed".

Spelt is closely related to common wheat, and is not usually a suitable substitute for people with celiac disease and wheat allergy.


The name of spelt in Hungarian is "Tönköly Búza", in German is Dinkel, and the hull which covers the seed is called Spelz. Hulled grains, which don't thresh freely like modern wheat, were identified by this quality and the term "spelt wheats" was often used in nineteenth century English to mean hulled wheats in general, not just spelt wheat.

The Luxembourger surname Speltz is derived from this grain. In Italy both emmer wheat and spelt are known as farro, although emmer is more common in Italy. In France spelt is known as épeautre. In Romania it is known as alac.

The Spanish terms for spelt are espelta or escaña mayor. Historically, in Spain spelt has only been grown in Asturias, where it is known as escanda.


Usually spelt is sold in the form of a coarse pale bread, similar in colour and in texture to light rye breads but with a slightly sweet and nutty flavour.

Cookies and crackers are also produced, but are more likely to be found in a specialty bakery or health food store than in a regular grocery store.

Spelt pasta is also available in health food stores and specialty shops.

The raw grain when chewed releases trace amounts of gluten giving the mass a slight resilience, not unlike gum[citation needed] (whereas wheat becomes a sticky glutinous mass, similar to thick jam).[citation needed] The texture slightly crunchy. The nutty flavour is more intense than it is in most breads and some prefer the raw substance to the baked goods.

Dutch jenever makers distill a special kind of gin made with spelt as a curiosity gin marketed for connoisseurs. (It is not clear how the connoisseurs could distinguish between alcohol derived from spelt from alcohol derived from other grains, especially after it has been distilled to very high proof.)


  1. Blatter RH, Jacomet S, Schlumbaum A (2004). "About the origin of European spelt ( Triticum spelta L.): allelic differentiation of the HMW Glutenin B1-1 and A1-2 subunit genes.". PubMed. Retrieved on February 14, 2006.
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See also



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